INDONESIA: CORONAVIRUS CRISIS TURNS INTO COMPOUNDED CATASTROPHE

KEZIA LAKSMONO WRITES — My home country is known for many cultural myths and rich folklore. I’ve always been skeptical of such stories. But folklore about New Year’s Day weather? For me, that’s always been an exception.

Historically, rain comes pouring down on the city of Jakarta – the place where I currently reside – and is welcomed as showers of blessings, when we welcome a new chapter of our lives. This year, during January, I felt particularly special and blessed, as it rained two weeks straight.

We usually are ready and able to face up to the repercussions of extreme rainfall. But other disasters, environmental and man-made? That’s too much to ask of any population.

According to The National Disaster Mitigation Agency, this January the country had already been stricken by a total of 197 “abnormal” natural disasters during the Jan 1-23 period. We had to deal with a tragic plane crash that killed all 62 people on board, floods and landslides that displaced tens of thousands, and a deadly earthquake that killed dozens. A volcano also erupted. All this, within the span of two weeks. Initial reports have shown that the resulting massive destruction is unthinkable and unprecedented. Thousands of people have been displaced, and neighborhoods left in ruins. I struggle to find the precise words to describe the horrific events that occurred.

National search and rescue groups have put the death toll at 100 and estimated that more than 70,000 people have been evacuated. Indonesian rescuers have also retrieved more bodies from the fragments of homes toppled by the earthquakes, while military engineers try to reopen damaged roads to clear access for relief goods.

All this, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, you might ask? While visiting the scene of the earthquake in West Sulawesi, President Jokowi said the current disasters in Indonesia have caused more perils due to the presence of two threats. Victims and volunteers were already in highly close contact while also suffering from a lack of sleep and nutritious food – which we know all encourage exposure to, and risk of contracting, the virus.

Friends of mine believe that the covid crisis turning into a compounded catastrophe is coincidental. But family members of mine have said the opposite – that it’s truly a vicious cycle and it should be a wake-up call for the Indonesian government.  Which do you believe?

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